Thursday, August 26, 2010
The High Summer Tomato
But what exactly is a high summer tomato? Example above harvested last week from my Mom's garden. It is the ripest, reddest, late summer crop; specifically the locally grown and native heirloom varieties which offer the best flavors and lend their beauty to various dishes. Upstairs On The Square's executive chef Steven Brand has taken on the task of finding these tomatoes and creating a tasting menu deemed "The Perfect August Repast: A Tomato Feast!" This event is taking place for only four nights - Wednesday August 25th - Saturday August 28th. I feel a sense duty to preface my history and bias with any restaurant "pre blog life" so let me just tell you, my first experience at Upstairs On The Square was Afternoon Tea for Gretchen's Bridal Shower. The event was held in the sun drenched glossy pink walled Zebra Room, named for its wild animal carpet. To keep it short, the afternoon filled with tea, champagne and tiered trays of finger foods was magical and I have been itching to head back here ever since. With that preface, you understand my delight when Megan invited me along with Alicia, Michelle & Meghan to what would be my second, (but certainly not my last) happening at Upstairs. On this cold and bleak Wednesday evening I entered the restaurant and was greeted by an enthusiastic hostess who lead me up three flights of leopard print stairs and into the Soiree Dining room. The same plush leopard rug underfoot, I was taken in by an abundance of pastel colors flanked with gold accents. This room transports you into a fairy tale. Large circular windows look down over the square. Whimsical lavender booths, teal painted tables, folded pink napkins and crisp white linens all added to the pretty pretty princess-esque ambiance. My dining companions and I without hesitation, opted in for the wine pairing with our meal. I was eager to learn from our waitress the details behind the wines. She was informative and consistent in her presentation, spelling out the names and allowing us a good look at the intricate designs on the labels. What, you don't get excited about fun labels on wine bottles?! The wine pairing commenced with a Ca del Solo Estate Vineyard, Albanio, Monterey, California. We then began the tasting with an Amuse Bouche, a Shooter of Summer Gazpacho. This was a flavorful few mouthfuls of crisp finely chopped ingredients including croutons, corn, onion, zucchini, and of course, tomato. Who knew there were so many angles at which to capture a single bite of food. ;)The appetizer course that immediately followed was a Classic Native Heirloom Tomato Salad composed of Fresh Market Raspberry Vinegar, Vermont Goat Cheese & Thai Basil. Vibrant red, yellow and green tomatoes were lined elegantly on the plate, dotted with deep-red raspberries and leaves of thai basil. The goat cheese was mild and creamy, the vinegar was pungent and tangy, and the pool it left behind was soaked up by my third (but not final) piece of bread. I didn't want an ounce of that precious liquid to go to waste. I knew I was onto something when Michelle took notice and followed my lead. Our second wine pairing was presented as a declassified version of what is normally a very expensive wine, a 2007 Domaine Callot, White Burgundy, Meursault (France). This wine accompanied the Parsley & Lemon Crusted Hake Lightly Crushed Yukon Golds & Lemongrass Tomato Water. It wasn't so much a crust, as a delicate blanket of lemon and parsley enveloping the fish. The Yukon Golds were subtle tender bites of warmth. There were fewer actual tomatoes highlighting this dish, but it didn't compromise on tomato taste. The broth was replete with comforting scents and beautiful flavors, enhancing the mild white hake. You better believe I grabbed yet another piece of bread to sop up those leftovers. I figured another slice of was more appropriate than drinking the bowl. Our third and final wine of the evening was a 2006 Stags Leap Artemis, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. She explained this bottle was an upgrade from the original pairing, because they ran out of the former. It was also made clear that the pour only appeared small because we were given a large glass that allows the wine to air properly. It does look like a pea sized amount! Good thing she made note of this fact. A robust red with notes of plum and cherry was complimentary to the Wood-Grilled New York Strip Steak Tomato à la Provençale & Slow Roasted Garlic. The strong scent of roasted garlic wafted through the air. The striking pool of lime green emulsion grabbed my attention. It provided a beautiful backdrop for its counterparts in contrasting shades of red; a moist juicy medium rare strip steak and a vivid red tomato, plump and overflowing with baked goodness. The crispy breadcrumbs, garlic, onion and herbs encased by the ripe flavorful tomato was the perfect portion to serve alongside the hearty wood-grilled steak. This dish was comforting and filling, but I still (despite all that bread consumed earlier) didn't feel too full for dessert.
Sweet Tomato Sorbet Coupe Olive Oil Ice Cream, Candied Pinenuts & Lemon Thyme Shortbread. Hats off to the pastry chef, Maria Santos. The shortbread cookie infused with lemony citrus flavors and fragrant notes of thyme was delectable. It played matchmaker with the ever so slightly sweet tomato sorbet laced with a red wine reduction, over a scoop of olive oil ice cream and topped with candied pinenuts. This dessert defies the realm of expectation. It takes every day savory kitchen ingredients and turns them into a luscious, sweet and unforgettable final course. For me it was the small touch of candied pine nuts that elevated the layers of icy and creamy treats upwards to perfection. It was all we could do to stop talking about it. We pondered aloud - during and after - how something could taste this incredible. It's a wonder I didn't grab another slice of bread and attempt to scrape the sides of the glass with it! The courses were appropriately paced and the waitstaff very knowledgeable and efficient. I felt like we were well taken care of, with special attention paid to the details. The the many charms of the high summer tomato were showcased with brilliance, surpassing all my expectations. It was a great evening at Upstairs On The Square with fellow Boston food bloggers / new friends / lovers of all things tomato, and in general women whose company I enjoy, especially at the dinner table creating images that bring food to life.